Odd Girl Out: Being Autistic in a Neurotypical World by Laura James
I read a review about Odd Girl Out in a newspaper. I have friends and have had clients on the autistic spectrum, but it is not really a condition I understand. So, the idea of reading a book written by a women with asberger’s syndrome, about life with the condition appealed to me.
The author, Laura James, has been married twice, has four children and a demanding job but she was in her mid-forties before she received a diagnosis of autism. This explained to her why she had often felt she was different or an outsider. Her book, Odd Girl Out, explains her feelings about life before and after the diagnosis.
Autism is a condition most predominantly associated with men. Estimates of the gender disparity of the condition vary, some place the ratio at four to one, others three to one (2015) or even 16 to one. The author’s late discovery comes as the National Autistic Society suggested autism has been significantly under-diagnosed in women and girlsand called for a change and improvement in diagnosis practices to combat this.
The main features of autism spectrum disorder are to do with social communication and interaction, often varying depending on the age of the person. The broad list of symptoms can include difficulty using or understanding facial expressions, jokes, sarcasm or recognising and understanding people’s feelings. James prefers to think of the features of her autism as traits rather than symptoms because she finds some of them are helpful while others she struggles with as they are difficult to live with.
Laura James identifies her ability to hyperfocus and spot trends and patterns as well as her logical approach to life not being ruled by emotions are traits she categorises as good ones. The sensory issues are more difficult for her. She can get overwhelmed by sounds, lights, smells and food textures and finds these can be exhausting. They cause her to have meltdowns or shutdowns, so that she either becomes non-verbal and needs to sit somewhere quietly alone for a while or she may become anxious and need to very quickly get out of the situation I am in. This can make her appear rude, or out of control to anyone watching.
Similarly, the author often needs lists and notes to remind her to do things a non-autistic person might find easier to remember such as getting dressed, eating and cleaning her teeth. Socialising in large groups is difficult as are surprises, whether positive or negative. Recognising feelings is also difficult for James. She finds that they usually fall into only two camps: the good ones and the bad ones. The good ones she identifies as coming in pretty colours and feeling soft, like cashmere between my fingers. The author sees the bad ones in shades of green and are jagged and spiky, like a piece of plastic that catches your finger and makes you bleed. Therefore she tries to live life in neutral, trying to ensure there are no highs and no lows.
Many people with autism experience difficulties finding employment, the National Autistic Society estimates only 16 per cent of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment and 32 per cent in some type of paid work. James is an exception to this statistic as she has successfully carved a career as a journalist and she owns a communications agency. So, this book is extremely interesting for the facts and incite it offers. However, it is a bit plodding and not terribly exciting, a bit neutral, perhaps. Still, if you are interested in learning about living with autism, it is an excellent resource.